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Belgian giants lambast Irish League ref Hunter

By Steven Beacom

Published 27/02/2016

Olympiakos' Kostas Fortounis (right) is tackled by Anderlecht's Leander Dendoncker during the match
Olympiakos' Kostas Fortounis (right) is tackled by Anderlecht's Leander Dendoncker during the match

Belgian outfit Anderlecht have slammed the performance of Irish League referee Arnold Hunter following a Europa League match against Olympiacos.

Hunter led a team of Northern Ireland officials for Thursday's last 32 second leg clash in Athens and came under scrutiny following a number of controversial decisions.

Anderlecht won the game 2-1, earning them a place in the last 16 of the competition thanks to a 3-1 aggregate success, but that didn't stop the president, manager, players and fans of the club berating the Fermanagh native.

Irish League officials are used to being blasted by supporters and managers of Danske Bank Premiership sides, who regularly hit out at the standard of officiating across the board in local football, but rarely does the disapproval reach the same level in European football.

Anderlecht president Roger Vanden Stock revealed that he was so angered by Hunter's decisions that he left the match before half-time.

He said: "I left the game te give a signal to Uefa. My wife and I took a cab to the hotel. Even in the most controversial games against Standard Liege (big rivals in Belgium) I did not do that. I had to follow the game via internet and SMS. After our win we drunk champagne.

"We will not appeal but we will tell Uefa this referee was dramatic and unacceptable at this level."

Anderlecht were furious when Olympiakos were awarded a penalty for handball - video replays showed the ball did not touch midfielder Stéphane Badji's arm. Other decisions also infuriated them, notably when they felt home defender Alberto Botía should have been red carded for challenges on Frankie Acheampong and Filip Djuricic.

Anderlecht coach Besnik Hasi stated: "I don't know what that referee saw at some points. The foul of Acheampong? I think it was a red. The foul on Djuricic deserved a red card and their penalty was hilarious."

Former Manchester United ace Alexander Buttner, who now plays in midfield for Anderlecht, claimed after the match that at half time Hunter "admitted he made a mistake with the penalty".

Hunter was contacted by the Belfast Telegraph but under Uefa's strict guidelines he is not allowed to communicate with the media about the match, his decisions or all the criticism coming his way.

Perhaps the most damning assessment came from Robert Jeurissen, the boss of the Belgian referees. Analysing the game for the VRT sports desk Sporza, he said: "I think this means the end of the season for Hunter. He blew his chance. This is a catastrophe for football in general and for Uefa. They wanted to give a young referee a real chance, and then this happens."

Hunter is far from a rookie, however. In fact in Uefa circles he has been a respected figure for some time.

The Maguiresbrige man has been refereeing European games for six years. He has taken charge of numerous Europa League matches, Champions League qualifiers and World Cup qualifiers.

On Thursday night, when Hunter issued nine yellow cards (three to Olympiacos and six to Anderlecht) his assistant referees were countrymen Richard Storey, Gareth Eakin, Raymond Crangle and Mervyn Smyth with Stephen Bell acting as the fourth official.

Hunter isn't scheduled to referee any of today's Irish League fixtures, the pick of which sees fourth-placed Glenavon visit second placed Linfield.

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